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American's AAdvantage members are NOT happy.

Recent changes to AAdvantage, the loyalty program used by American Airlines, have rankled its members, who are taking to social media to rant.

The changes center around a fundamental shift in how the airline measures and awards elite status. Last week, American became the last of the big three legacy carriers to add a revenue-component to its requirements to its calculation for elite status, requiring 2017 members to spend a requisite amount of cash on the airline each year in order to qualify. Like its competitors, the required-spend ranges from $3,000 for Gold status, the lowest elite tier, up to $12,000 for Executive Platinum status, the highest published tier.

American has been foreshadowing changes for the better part of a year, and though many AAdvantage members realistically expected this turn of events, some couldn’t help hide their disappointment. Posting on Facebook, Amanda Workman, a Dallas,Texas-based Global leadership consultant who files over 100,000 miles a year, expressed her feelings:

“So I think this is what it boils down to for me. My feelings are hurt, and I am incredibly sad. It is as if a friend that I loved dearly just walked into the room and said “I don’t want to be friends any more. You hold no value for me. I have judged you all along on who you were & you are simply not enough.” YES, YES, I know it is all about the business, but at the end of the day, for me it was so much more than that. AA was my family and are my friends. There was comfort in getting on a plane – even the old, crusty ones…because it was familiar and felt like coming home after a long day or hard trip. I feel as though I’ve been broken up with and I have no idea who I am going to date because I don’t really want to date anyone else. Dating AA was hard enough.

On Flyertalk, a message board for frequent flyers, a 65-page thread dedicated to the changes has been filling up with resigned members sharing their stories. “No big surprise to see AA following the leader,” lamented user ty92, adding “Unfortunately for AA they aren’t nearly as good of an airline as DL.”

Indeed, though AAdvantage has consistently ranked well among business travelers in the annual Freddie awards honoring the world’s best loyalty programs, many are concerned that now, with an industry-standard loyalty program, American might lose customers to competing carriers with potentially better routes and aircraft.

A poll posted on that forum asking how the AAdvantage changes would affect travelers suggested that 31% of American’s loyalty program members were now interested in becoming “independent agents,” open towards earning status on any carrier, while about 24% were interested in joining another airline’s program altogether.

Regardless of the grousing, American remains steadfast, defending the new AAdvantage over social media and offering little solace to travelers. Like with similar transitions at Delta and United, unhappy customers may migrate away from American and AAdvantage leaving a smaller and more industry-standard loyalty program in stride. At that point, it’s up to the airline’s hard product and route network to convince passengers to fly on American.

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Tags: aadvantage, american airlines

Photo credit: American Airlines is facing a backlash from its customers over a change to how loyalty members earn points and status. John Tagart / Flickr

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